Today I’d like to discuss the 4 7 8 breathing exercise for sleep.
During my many years of research into insomnia and various other sleep disorders I never thought something as simple as a breathing technique could be a solution.
To me, well breathing is just something we do in order to live, to survive, nothing more.
However, if only I’d looked a little further into my own past, I would have discovered that breathing techniques to deal with certain issues was something I already knew a little about.
I was a fairly active athlete and sports person during my younger days, and I still enjoy exercise to this day. I was always taught to breathe in a particular way when I’m winded, out of breath, or wish to slow my heart rate down.
The same can be said when I became over-anxious or highly stressed out and found that it affected my breathing.
I typically follow simple techniques just to calm me down.
But, to think that there may be a variety of breathing exercises that could help me sleep, well that had never occurred to me.
So, I’d like to share with you today one of the most popular techniques to help you sleep.
How Can Breathing Exercises Help You Sleep?
When I first discovered breathing exercises to deal with my own insomnia it was a bit of a revelation to me.
However, the more I thought about it, the more sense it seemed to make.
As I see it, breathing techniques provide a three-pronged attack against a sleepless night.
Firstly, techniques such as the 4 7 8 breathing exercise are generally aimed at dealing with stress and reducing anxiety.
A prime example of a breathing technique used to deal with a stressful situation that most people will be aware of is the “breathe into a paper bag if you’re hyperventilating” trick.
Okay, admittedly the science behind this is a little different to what you need to do to help you drop off at night, but my initial aim here is to show that certain breathing exercises are used to calm us down.
The good old paper bag method had more to do with replacing carbon dioxide in the blood, which is typically expelled at a far higher rate when we hyperventilate.
But, it is still a breathing exercise used to deal with a stressful situation.
So, how is this linked to sleep?
Well, as I see it, one of the most common reasons that many of us struggle to sleep is because of an overactive mind.
Why is it that the second you get into bed that you immediately start thinking about inconsequential things that occurred earlier in the day, or something that you’re not looking forward to tomorrow?
You’ve literally had all day to mull these things over, but No, you decide that the best time to over analyze these things is the second you get into bed.
Therefore, performing breathing exercises just before you go to sleep is a great way to focus the mind on something else, other than the things you can do nothing about at this moment in time.
Secondly, as I’ve alluded to, breathing exercises help to relax you, to calm you down, and this is of paramount importance if you’re looking for a good night’s rest.
This ties in with everything I’ve said above.
Another great example of a breathing technique (that most people are aware of, but have never really properly considered) is the count to 10 method when you’re angry and feel like you’re about to explode.
Now, on the face of it, this may not seem like a breathing exercise at all, I mean all you’re doing is counting from one to ten.
However, when we are angry and feel like we’re about to say something that we may later regret, you can bet your bottom dollar that your heart is racing, your breathing is deep and rapid, and you may even have started to shake.
The counting to ten theory helps you to instantly focus your mind on something else. This in turn will help to slow that heart rate, calm the breathing, and you probably won’t be clenched-fist shaking for much longer.
In reality, ten seconds probably isn’t anywhere near enough, I would think counting to 100 would be much better, but the principle remains the same. You are trying to relax both the mind and body.
This is how breathing exercises whether aimed at stress, anxiety or sleep, work.
Thirdly, the placebo effect.
This is actually just a personal opinion and it’s not something I’ve seen discussed that often.
I’ve been using breathing exercises to help me sleep for a number of years now, and as far as I’m concerned, they work.
Okay, I’ve mentioned that they help to focus your mind elsewhere, they can help to slow your breathing and heart rate, but I’m still not 100% sure how they help me to nod off… but they do.
With that being said, nowadays I never go to sleep without performing some type of breathing technique.
I have convinced myself that I will be unable to sleep without them, and I guess that is both a good and bad thing.
It’s good, in that, as long as I perform a particular exercise I “know” I’m going to get a great night’s rest. On the other hand, if for any reason I forget to perform a breathing exercise as part of my bedtime ritual I am convinced I won’t be able to sleep that night.
In reality, this takes me back to overthinking and getting stressed out (a vicious circle if you will).
Luckily for me, the vast majority of breathing exercises I use at night take no longer than a couple of minutes to complete.
Who’s Behind The 4 7 8 Breathing Exercise?
Enter Dr. Andrew Thomas Weil.
Dr. Weill is a world-renowned celebrity Doctor who advocates integrative medicine. His view of healing within healthcare is that we should focus on the mind, body and spirit.
Dr. Weill is Harvard educated and he has spent his life focusing on natural and preventative medicine.
Some of his accomplishments include:
- He is the founder and director of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine, University of Arizona.
- He is the editorial director of the website DrWeil.com
- The Weil Foundation – founder and chairman
- Weil Lifestyle – chairman
- True Food Kitchen restaurants – founder and co-owner
Dr. Weill has written and published a wide array of books, as well as writing a monthly column for Prevention Magazine, as well as blogs for the Huffington Post.
He is recognized the world over for his “expertise” in alternative medicine, medicinal plants, and medical education reform. Dr. Weil frequently lectures and is a hugely popular guest on talk shows and has appeared regularly on Larry King Live on CNN, Oprah and the Today Show.
This is not to say that he doesn’t have his controversies, although this is to be expected, especially from medical professionals who may not entirely agree with Weil’s promotion of alternative medicine practices.
With that being said, he has received criticism for some of his TV appearances, as he seems to advocate “untested treatments”, whilst at the same time rejecting many conventional forms of medicine.
So, I think it’s best to say that Dr. Weil has his supporters, as well as many opponents.
However, I am someone who has personally used the 4 7 8 breathing exercise for sleep and it has worked for me. Nevertheless, I have pointed out that I believe the “placebo effect” may be at play here as well.
I guess the only way for you to really know is to try it for yourself.
How To Perform 4 7 8 Breathing
I think the best way to describe the 4 7 8 technique is that it is a rhythmic breathing practice, similar to those found in yoga and meditation.
In fact, it has been said that this breathing method is based on an ancient yogic technique known as pranayama.
Dr Weil has stated that this technique can be used to reduce anxiety, manage cravings, control anger, and of course help get a person to sleep.
I’ve read on many occasions people stating this is a miracle cure and some have claimed it can help you to fall asleep in less than a minute the very first time you try it.
Well, all I can say is, that was never the case for me.
I typically used the 4 7 8 method to get my mind and breathing under control and continued the exercise until I fell asleep.
It’s hard to put an exact time limit on it in my own experience (as I’m not clock watching), but I would hazard a guess that I usually drop off within 10-15 minutes. And as for working the very first time I tried it, I’m going to say No.
I will also add that Dr. Weil himself has said that this isn’t an immediate solution, but more a question of creating a habit, which over time will help you to fall asleep faster.
The actual breathing exercise is very simple – you are to inhale for a total of 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds. Continue until you fall asleep.
Okay, admittedly there is a bit more to it than that, but rather than making a fool out of myself and emitting “whooshing” noises, and holding my tongue against my teeth, etc. I’ll allow the main man himself to explain exactly how to perform the 4 7 8 breathing exercise.
So, there you have it, the 4 7 8 breathing exercise for sleep.
This is a technique that I can say has definitely worked for me and helped me countless times to drop off.
Breathing exercises for insomnia are nothing new and have been used for many, many years.
We are now aware that certain techniques can help the mind to focus on something else, they can aid in relaxation, and if you truly believe that a breathing exercise will work for you, then it probably will.
Dr Andrew Weil is the person who first introduced the 4 7 8 breathing exercise to the world as a method to reduce anxiety and to help someone sleep.
As you can see, there is much controversy around his methods, but as I’ve mentioned the only way you will know if this technique works is to try it for yourself.
Let me know if you’ve tried the 4 7 8 method and whether it worked for you.
Please do drop me a comment below and let me know what you think.
Thank you and happy breathing.